Thursday, August 02, 2007

Groups Say EPA Nano Plan "Too Little, Too Late"

Aug 2: According to a release from Environmental Defense, U.S. EPA must act much more aggressively to protect the public and the environment from the potential risks of engineered nanoscale materials. The urgent call came at a public meeting on EPA’s proposal for a voluntary Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program (NMSP) in the only testimony given by a member of the Federal advisory committee that counseled EPA to launch such a program two years ago. Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for Environmental Defense said, “Two years in the making, EPA’s tepid proposals have actually set back the clock. As a government response to addressing the possible downsides of the nanotechnology revolution, it’s simply ‘too little, too late.’”

On October 18, 2006, EPA invited stakeholders to participate in the design, development, and implementation of the NMSP under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) [
See WIMS 10/19/07]. Denison said that key features of the Federal advisory committee’s original proposal had been stripped out of EPA's proposal.

On July 12, EPA released two draft documents for public review and comment. The documents are entitled, (1) TSCA Inventory Status of Nanoscale Substances--General Approach (7-page); and (2) Concept Paper for the Nanoscale Materials Stewardship Program under TSCA (21-pages). The first document describes EPA's current thinking regarding whether a nanoscale material is a "new" or "existing" chemical substance under TSCA. The second document describes the Agency's general approach, issues, and considerations for NMSP and is intended to serve as a starting point for continuing work with stakeholders on the detailed design of NMSP. Comments on the documents are being accepted until September 10, 2007, and a public meeting about the proposed approaches was held on August 2, 2007, in Arlington, VA.

Environmental Defense indicated, the tiny high-tech materials -- measuring in billionths of a meter -- are already showing up in hundreds of consumer products, ranging from paints to cosmetics to stain-resistant treatments for clothing. Initial studies show that some of them may be able to enter the body and even individual cells and, once there, can cause damage. Denison said, “We supported the original proposal for a voluntary program two years ago because it was one element of a comprehensive plan that also included regulatory steps intended to provide a ‘backstop,’ and it was to be launched and completed quickly. By contrast, EPA now is calling for an open-ended program with no plan B should its voluntary plan A fall short.”

Environmental Defense indicated that the United Kingdom has operated a program, similar to what EPA is suggesting, for over nine months and has attracted only seven companies to volunteer. They said the design and timing of the EPA program is likely to yield similarly disappointing participation, resulting in a very selective and skewed picture of the state of nanotechnology.

Environmental Defense instead urged EPA to rapidly develop and implement mandatory reporting rules to level the playing field for the nanotechnology industry and ensure that relevant information is communicated -- a step EPA said it had initiated more than two years ago, but for which it has provided no public indication of actual progress. Environmental Defense also opposed EPA’s decision to treat nanoscale materials as if they are no different from their conventional counterparts.

On June 21, Environmental Defense and DuPont released their final comprehensive framework to assist with the responsible development and use of nanotechnology and to help inform global dialogue on its potential risks [See WIMS 6/21/07]. A preliminary framework was released on February 26, 2007 [See WIMS 2/27/07] to solicit comments from interested parties. Environmental Defense has been working since 2003 to ensure that the potential risks of nanoscale materials are identified and mitigated. The organization has advocated for more Federal funding for health and environmental risk research and says it is the only U.S. environmental NGO active at the international level in efforts to address nanoscale material risks.

Former EPA Assistant Administrator for Policy and Senior Advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), J. Clarence (Terry) Davies also testified on EPA's NMSP. Davies said, "...the long delay in starting the volunteer program indicate that EPA is not serious about nanotechnology oversight. I hope this is not true. It is certainly not the signal the agency should be giving."

In a related matter, on July 31, 2007, a broad international coalition of consumer, public health, environmental, labor, and civil society organizations spanning six continents called for strong, comprehensive oversight of the new nanotechnology and its products. The coalition release what it is calling the Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials. The coalition's declaration outlines eight fundamental principles necessary for adequate and effective oversight and assessment of the emerging field of nanotechnology.

Access a release from Environmental Defense and links to their complete statement and additional information on nanotechnology (
click here). Access the testimony from PEN (click here). Access the PEN website for extensive information (click here). Access a release from Friends of the Earth on the Principles and link to the complete document (click here).Access the FR announcement of the EPA documents, meeting and comment period (click here). Access links to the two draft reports and related information (click here). Access complete information on the conference (click here). Access the National Nanotechnology Initiative website for additional information (click here). Access WIMS-EcoBizPort Nanotechnology links for additional information (click here). [*Toxics]